GMTC Friend Jama Oliver-Tennessee House Bill 1872 (“The Virtual Public Schools” bill) – An Attempt to Bribe Homeschoolers?
September 10, 2007, 2:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


Tennessee House Bill 1872 (2008 in the Senate), also known as the Virtual Public Schools bill , seems like it might be a good idea at first glance,  as it would give parents the opportunity to “home school” for free with the guidance of professional teachers. I’ll give you an overview of the bill and follow up with why I think it’s a bad idea.

A Virtual Public School would be set up in the State of Tennessee under House Bill 1872 (Senate bill 2008), which would provide parents with the opportunity to home school their children (in a way) through an online program, complete with public school materials and curriculum and access to licensed teachers. Parents would be provided with a computer, printer, reimbursement for internet access, as well as books and instructional material. Parents would be doing the work, as far as guiding their children through the schoolwork, making sure the children are doing schoolwork for the required amount of time, and administering tests, etc. Teachers would be made available to assist the parent with instruction. You can read the full text of the bill here.

I see so many problems with such a program that I hardly know where to begin. Let’s start at the beginning of the bill, with the “whereas” clauses. The bill states, “WHEREAS, closing the achievement gap between high-performing students, including the gap between minority and non-minority students, and between economically disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers, is a significant and present challenge;” Well, this statement is true. It is unclear, however, how a virtual public school is going to do anything to solve the problem of achievement gaps “between high-performing students, including the gap between minority and non-minority students…” blah, blah, blah. The reason that under-achieving students are under-achieving is typically not that they are poor or minority – although, statistically, under-achieving students fall into one or both of these categories – it is because of a lack of parental involvement. I would have been considered economically disadvantaged as a child (although I didn’t know it!), but I was actually a rather high achiever because my parents were actively involved in my education. Having parents that care is a key factor in having high-achieving children, not whether they are rich or poor, minority or non-minority. A virtual public school is not going to make a parent any more involved in his/her child’s education than he/she would have been in the first place. Furthermore, how is an “economically disadvantaged” parent going to be able to stay home to educate his/her child in the first place? The reason many choose not to home school is because they have to work, rather than stay home with their children, and a virtual public school is not going to change the fact that many parents send their kids to school because they have to go to work.

“Whereas” clause number two that bothers me: “WHEREAS, many school districts lack the capacity to provide other public school choices for students whose schools are high priority schools;” Newsflash, Rep. Hawk (author of the House bill): we do not want other PUBLIC school choices! School choice is not defined as “a desire for more choices in government-run education.” School choice, for those of us who favor it, means the right to decide where and how your own child will be educated without being penalized for opting out of government-run education. Although there are some who want the ability to pick “better” public schools than the ones they are allotted (if there is such a thing), the vast majority of us want the right to decide to either home school our children or send them to private schools without having to pay for their education twice (through both taxation and tuition and/or home school expenses). Virtual public schools do nothing to solve this problem.

Section 5 of the bill states, “A virtual school may be sponsored by an LEA or a charter school governing body, or the department of education may establish a virtual school. A virtual school shall be a public school and shall be provided equitable treatment and resources as any other public school in the state.” It is unclear in the wording of the bill, as seen in Section 5, where exactly the funding for the “virtual school” will be going. Will the funds (which are to be “equitable” to those of any other public school) be going to the LEA, charter school governing body, the department of education, or directly to the parent who is making use of the “virtual school”?

The bill also states that “nothing in this section shall prohibit a virtual school from reimbursing a student or student’s parent or guardian for costs associated with an internet connection for use in the virtual school program.” Yes, you read that correctly…the State of Tennessee will be reimbursing families for their internet connection. So, you, as a taxpayer, could very well be paying for little Johnny’s father’s porn habit. Oh, and his education through the internet, as well. Not to mention the fact that, because of the way the State government is organized, there is no way for the State of Tennessee to actually issue a reimbursement check. This is why a “School Choice” bill written by Rep. Matthew Hill was scrapped, as there was no way to reimburse parents for school costs due to lack of bureaucracy in the state of Tennessee (which is a good thing!). So, either Rep. Hawk hasn’t considered the fact that there’s actually no way to issue a reimbursement check to parents for their internet connection, or he has considered it and is planning on creating a huge new government department in order to do so.

My final fear is that well-meaning home school parents will be duped into educating their children through the public school system, albeit indirectly. Two of the main reasons parents choose to home educate is in order to 1) prevent indoctrination of their children by the government and 2) present a Christ-centered, higher quality education. Since home school families are almost always single-income families with many children, a free computer would certainly be a temptation. Can you imagine raising 7 kids on one income and being offered a free, “no strings attached” computer and internet connection from your friendly local state representative? Oh, but you have to use our curriculum (which is also free), although it’s really no big deal! It would be difficult for some parents to turn down, especially if they don’t immediately see the implications of accepting such an offer.

The program that would be implemented through this bill is different than “virtual public school” programs that allow students attending “regular” public schools to take classes that are not offered in their local school district. This sort of program, similar to those offered in state universities (through the Regents Online Degree Program in Tennessee) does have merit, as students are able to take the majority of their classes in the standard way, but may increase their learning through distance education. In this sort of virtual school program students would be using computers through their school libraries or computer labs, rather than freebie computers in their homes.

Well meaning as this bill may be (although I really don’t think it is all that well-meaning) I have very little doubt that it will do more harm than good. Not only would this bill expand the power and reach of the public education system, and, therefore, the government, but it would do very little to take care the problems it was intended solve.

Jama Oliver


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